While it’s not true for every district or every district leader, my experience is that just two words, put together in the right order, can immediately trigger fear and dread. Those words are “strategic” and “plan.” Toss the word “technology” in the mix and superintendents start hyperventilating and scouting for exits.
And I know it feels like you’ve been a firefighter these past dozen months. You have been. But, if you have not been already, you’re going to be called on to plan for the next fires, and probably soon. That’s because there are new realities to address – preparing for future rapid, unexpected, and large-scale shifts to remote learning or indefinite hybrid models or institutionalizing online options for specific students. There’s no getting around it.
So, if dealing with your district’s technology strategic planning falls somewhere between unnecessary oral surgery and traffic jams, I understand. But I have seven reasons why dragging out your technology strategic plan will actually be good this time.
Here they are:
- We know more overall. To start, all of us know a ton more about how technology actually functions in the real world in our districts than we did a year ago. For many, that learning journey has been Odyssean. But with a dawn breaking, we can start to reflect on what we learned along the way. That’s good.
- Remote/digital teaching really helps some students. Another great thing is that, while remote teaching has been a challenge and burden for many, it’s been a catharsis and awakening for some too.
Amid the fog, a consensus is emerging that remote, online instruction has been downright revolutionary for some students, separating them from negative and prohibitive emotional and social pressures of in-person schooling. We’re also seeing that online or digital instructional tools can reach some students in ways we did not realize before we had no other options. The planning we do now can now meet those needs and help those students.
- We’re all digital teachers now. Many districts now have trained and experienced digital educators, lots of them. True, it was sink-or-swim training out of necessity. But the outcome, a suddenly veteran crew of tech-able teachers is an asset.
- It’s not theory anymore. While strategic planning is what it is, there are real, evidenced learning benefits that we can now design to support and grow. In other words, the planning and revision we have to do now is no longer hypothetical. It’s not wishful, it’s actual. We’ve all been there, done that and our future planning and future action can finally reflect it.
- No need for new hardware. With the caveat that every school district is in a different place and on a different path, the chances are very high that revisions outlined in your technology plan updates will not require a ton of expensive new hardware.
That’s because, though there are likely a few exceptions on the student side, the technology hiccups and snafus your district had to overcome this past year were not driven by hardware deficiencies. Based on my conversations with the districts we serve and the experience I’ve had helping to lead schools in the U.K., the pain points most often originated from difficulties with connectivity, software or system interoperability (getting systems to work together), or training and familiarity.
That’s good because it means:
- We can make real progress without big cost. The likelihood of not needing new hardware reduces implementation costs dramatically, increasing the probability of action significantly.
- Interventions and solutions can be targeted, even surgical. Knowing what practices or parts of software created problems allows planning and action to target those things specifically. That ability to be precise can also lower cost and increase solution time.
For example, students and teachers probably no longer need much training or experience in using a learning management system or giving feedback remotely. Instead, district IT leaders and teachers can now pinpoint problems and design or enlist solutions to fix what slowed down or blocked actual teaching and learning. That saves time and money.
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The wrinkles need to be ironed. The gaps closed. The cohesion needs to be less visible. But by and large that’s a function of planning, networking, and training. Hard work, to be sure. But not the type of challenge that’s going to require a massive infusion of physical infrastructure or endless piloting and iteration.
Honestly, I think those seven things are great news – maybe enough to lower the anxiety and apprehension that usually come along with the words “strategic, technology, and plan.”
Let me say that another way. Looking at where you want to go versus the ground you’ve likely already covered, you’re certain to be farther along than you realize. When you’re standing in the middle of the obstacle course, progress can be difficult to see, I know. That’s why it may also be a wise time to enlist outside counsel to help pinpoint the most pressing issues, deploy solutions and help you use what you’ve already got – the priceless experience you and your teams earned this past year.
Whether you take that last step or not, the time to revisit your plans is here, or near.
While you may expect that to be followed by condolences, I think congratulations are more in order. Let’s bust out those plans and do some good. Let’s put what we know to good use, on a mission, for the benefit of our instructors, students, staff, families, and communities.
Al Kingsley is CEO of NetSupport which supports 18 million devices used in learning throughout the globe. NetSupport produces a range of education solutions, including a cloud-based remote learning solution and an IT Asset Management solution to manage and support IT assets across a school or district network. He is a sought after speaker and is the co-host of popular EdTech solutions podcast, the Check it Out! show.
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